Why Was Constantinople Renamed To Istanbul?

Emperor Constantine

I was flying through Istanbul and was interested in why Istanbul changed from its previous name Constantinople. Like many people, I have heard about Constantinople, but I had no idea why the city’s name changed to Istanbul.

The city of Constantinople was officially renamed Istanbul in the 1930s. Before this time, many people used the name Istanbul, but only part of the city which lies within the old city walls was named Istanbul, and the rest of the city was called Constantinople. Constantinople was named after the Roman Emperor Constantine, credited with bringing Christianity to the Roman Empire.

Istanbul As Constantinople

When I mentioned the name Constantinople to my mother, who grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, she said, oh, I know that city, that’s what we used to call it when I was younger and lived in Sweden. Many people remember the name Constantinople and may not understand that Constantinople is the former name of Istanbul.

Istanbul is over 5,000 years old; it is a city that is rich in history. In 330 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine moved to the eastern capital of the Roman Empire, which is present-day Istanbul. At that time, this area was a Greek Colony known as Byzantine.

I imagine when Constantine moved to this part of the world, it must have seemed like the edge of the world – or at least the edge of the Roman Empire. First, the city was called the “New Rome.”

Later its name was changed to “The City of Constantine” or Constantinople in honor of the Roman Emperor Constantine.

The Roman Emperor Constantine

Constantine was also known as Constantine I, Constantine The Great, and in Latin Flavius Valerius Constantinus, is credited as the first Roman Emperor to profess and practice Christianity. Because of him and his belief in Christianity, Roman eventually became a Christian state.

The Roman Empire forever changed due to Constantine’s influence.

Constantine settles in Constantinople or New Rome later in his life. During this time, Constantine had a great interest in building up Christian Churches around his empire. Because of this, his influence and church building can be found around the area.

Constantine is one of the characters from old Roman that is rifled with issues. He was a big spender who lavishly spent on his supporters, yet he confiscated the treasures of others and raised taxes. He was also wholly ruthless towards his political enemies, and his reign was brutal.

The Ottomans and Istanbul

In 1453 the Ottomans, known today as the Turks, conquered Constantinople and renamed part of Istanbul; the name Istanbul means City of Islam. The Ottoman Empire became one of the most important rulers in the world during the 15th and 16th Centuries.

The Ottomans were in power for more than 600 years, and their empire only came to an end in 1922 when the Turkish Republic replaced the Ottoman Empire. For many years, the Ottoman Empire ruled a large part of the middle east, including Turkey.

During the Ottoman Empire, the only part of the city named Istanbul was the part that was in the old part of the city; the rest of the city was still called Constantinople.

Istanbul was a common term in everyday Turkish speech even before 1453. So, we can say that the Ottoman empire did not bring the term Istanbul to the city as much as the locals were already using it when they came.

Officially many people still referred to the city as Constantinople. But not everyone called is Constantinople; here is some evidence to show that even in 1929, the name Istanbul was being used:

  • 1929 – New York Times – “Istambul (our usual form for the word is” Stamboul”) has always been the Turkish name for the whole of Constantinople.”
  • 1929 – The Observer – “To the Turks themselves, it was never Constantinople by Istanbul.”

Until this time, many people referred to Istanbul as Constantinople. Even mail and telegrams were delivered to Constantinople and not Istanbul. However, by 1929, Turkish nationalists advocated Constantinople being called Istanbul. In May 1930, the U.S. State Department began to use Istanbul.

In the 1930s, the Turkish Postal Service created a law that the city officially be known as Istanbul. Until the 1930s, many people used the terms Constantinople, but after 1930 it was formally known as Istanbul. Today the name Constantinople is rarely used to refer to this city.

The Ottoman Empire brought Islam to this world, including Istanbul. Today about 90% of the population in Istanbul is Sunni Muslim. Istanbul city has nearly 2691 mosques, 123 churches, and 20 synagogues. 

The Christian population is mainly Greek Orthodox Christians, Armenian Christians, Catholic Levantines, and Sephardic Jews.

When you understand that 90% of Istanbul’s population considers themselves Muslim, you can also understand why this city that sits on the line between Asia and Europe would not want to be officially known as Constantinople or be named after a Roman Emperor. He is credited with being the first Roman Emperor to profess Christianity.

At A Bus On A Dusty Road, we talk about all things to do with travel, life, and ex-pat living. We are all about “Living Life As A Global Citizen.” We explore social, cultural, and economic issues and travel.

We would love to have you be part of our community. Sign up for our newsletter to keep up-to-date by clicking here. If you have any questions, you can contact me, Anita, by clicking here.

Listen to our Podcast called Dusty Roads. You can find it on all major podcast platforms. Try out to listen to one of our podcasts by clicking here.

Subscribe to our A Bus On A Dusty Road YouTube Channel filled with great videos and information by clicking here.

Related Questions

What Makes Istanbul So Special?

As a transcontinental city, it is simple, unique, and memorable. It is also an ancient city home to the Roman empire and, in fact, over four to three other empires. For a long time, the ottoman empire controlled Istanbul as it was at the center of the arts. It’s simple as a city with a fantastic skyline that offers anyone visiting a lot of great things to do.

You can learn more by reading What Makes Istanbul So Special? by clicking here.

Is Istanbul in Europe or Asia?

Istanbul has the famous Bosphorus Strait used as the dividing line between Europe and Asia. The city is divided almost right down the middle between the European and Asia Continents. 

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Is Istanbul in Europe or Asia? by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

Recent Posts

Why Was Constantinople Renamed To Istanbul?